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How soon could schools reopen? Expert comment from Dr Michael Wyness

The leader of the Association of School and College Leaders has suggested that the earliest that schools could reopen following lockdown is 1 June. Dr Michael Wyness from the University of Warwick Centre for Education Studies has commented on how feasible this is and some of the factors that schools will have to consider when reopening to pupils.

He said: "We are used to children moving from one relatively safe space, the home, to another relatively safe environment, the school, where children routinely adjust to different sets of rules. The rules of social distancing and the introduction of the lockdown several weeks ago have created an unprecedented situation for children, parents and teachers. In recent days there has been a suggestion that children will be reintroduced to schools in early June as the government begins to loosen the restrictions on social interactions. However, it is pretty clear that while there may be some flexibility in terms of the lockdown, social distancing is likely to persist until the beginning of 2021. This has major implications for children moving back into school. First, schools are places where children from different households interact both socially and educationally. It might be possible for older children to keep a safe 2 metre distance between themselves and their peers. For example, this may happen in years 10 and 12 with students working towards assessments the following year. It is unlikely to happen with younger children in primary schools where there is more group work and where children will find it very difficult to social distance in the playground. Second, there are logistical and spatial issues with schools having limited room and capacity to allow children to move safely within and between classes in large numbers. Third, despite any attempts at social distancing, teachers are at a greater risk of serious illness than pupils through interactions with pupils and staff. Finally, children moving between the home and the school becomes a much riskier business, with children potentially infecting family members within high risk categories on their return from school.

"Teachers and parents become risk assessors balancing the educational and psychological impact of a sustained period away from school, with the potential for children to interact with their peers and teachers in school and heighten the risk of spreading the virus. The best guess at this stage is that schools remain closed until September for most pupils with particular years and groups of pupils prioritised. This allows groups of children to return to school for short periods of time under a very strict social distancing regime."

23 April 2020


Peter Thorley
Media Relations Manager (Warwick Medical School and Department of Physics)


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